Archive for the ‘dialogue’ Category

Subtext is a tricky thing, unless you know how to do it, its hard to do, and when you do know, its simple.

Subtext is important because thats how people are, people are full of things they don’t say. If you think of it like this, you have a secret you want to tell someone, but you have absolutely been forbidden to tell them, or you are terrified to tell them – you really want them to know though, so you tell them without telling, you imply or infer, or you avoid it altogether. To me subtext is basically the secret conversation going on inside the conversation.

When writing a novel you only have the thoughts of one character (usually – depending on perspective) and so some of your subtext can be explained through that, but often, you don’t want it to be explained, you want it to subtly creep up on the reader or punch them in the face. In screen-writing of course you don’t have the luxury of being able to read peoples thoughts and so you have to work a little harder for your subtext (although in some ways this makes it easier).

Possibly one of the reasons i love the book Rebecca so much is because no one is ever saying what they are thinking! the tension and frustration shines through in this subtext rich novel. From the protagonists relationship with her husband, to creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers bizarrely homoerotic fixation with her dead employer. the subtext also comes through in the actions of the characters. If you only ever read one book – make it that one.

Another story that is rich in subtext is CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, ┬áMy favourite movie, also a fantastic play although different to the movie in many ways, including the “happy” ending. The best conversations in that movie are the ones that don’t happen. The rare moments when there is some honesty Brick has to drink himself into oblivion.

Just remember when you are writing to leave out the obvious things and try not to write on the nose. Write the conversation as you would have it, then change it so its all a little less in your face. If someone asks a question, rather than answer it have your character do something to show how they feel. For instance in that clip of cat on a hot tin roof when she drinks from the glass he wont take it from her to continue his drink, he doesn’t say to her “I don’t want that now you’ve drunk from it” but the way he looks at her and the way he goes and pours himself another one tells us all we need to know about how he feels about her. – although later we realise that his disgust isn’t with her but with himself (subtext with subtext – hot!) make your story multi-layered and make your audience work for the truth. no one wants it all laid out on a plate for them, thats just boring.

I have by no means mastered this myself, but at least i know this is something to strive for. i find it easier in screen-writing than in writing a novel where i am privvy to thoughts and feelings of characters, not to say its impossible, it really isn’t.

Subtext is what makes stories sexy to me.

Until next time

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